The Dallas Underground Art Scene

Posted 12/07/2009 by smartblackboy in Labels: , , , , ,

"I care about the things I witness and how they resonate with me" - Bill Simmons, The Book of Basketball

I have had the privilege to listen to great music performed in houses for relatively few people. I have seen amazing assortments of talented musicians who form a band for one night, make angels come down from heaven, and never play together again.

Being young in Dallas, TX and part of what you may describe as the underground arts scene is an exhilirating feeling. The scene isn't underground out of any intellectual or snobbish reasons. Nor is it a result of a backlash against a repressive art establishment

The scene is underground simply because no one knows where to go and artists are constantly finding each other, then losing each other, then buying into the ridiculous notion that Dallas can't ever be their home.

Young artists in Dallas don't want to be here. They have this idea that fame, truth, lifestyle, money exists for them somewhere else - Austin, Chicago, Portland, and always, New York. So the best of us - leave - but they also come back, a few days in town here and there, and they are like ghosts, rumors, whispers, lightening in a bottle that can be caught at some friend's house, in the corner of some dive bar, perfectly anonymous, talented as hell, and constantly in motion.

My best friends are like this, and it disgusts me. I came to Dallas because I think it is the most exciting place in America to be part of the art community. Everything about the city screams potential.

The arts in Dallas is all bones - state of the art facilities, a few well-run organizations, a group of seasoned veterans - a skeleton that might burst to life at any moment if we attach flesh to her.

Art scenes in other places, Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York - they are more mature, more established, they have less flexibility for someone young to come in and matter. The gift of the Dallas art scene is that you - as a young talented artist - matter here. You become a breath of fresh air, a sign of hope, a bit of blood threatening to pump through the veins of this cities art infrastructure.

And how important it is to be relevant! For your existence to matter to somebody. Dallas offers this in spades - what better place to plant roots and make a name for yourself?

When I first returned to Dallas in 2008 - knew very few people in the arts community and sent blind emails to many gallery directors and arts administration professionals at large non-profits (Dallas Museum of Art, Office of Cultural Affairs, Big Thought, etc). And these people who had never heard my name - responded to me - were willing to sit down for coffee - listen to my ideas - give me advice - and introduce me to other people.

What more could you ask from an art scene than that it embraces and nurtures the young?

Yet, my peers give up on Dallas without really trying to understand her. They don't try to delve beneath the cliches that Dallas offers in abundance - a land of $30,000 millionaires - and find a vibrant core of like minded individuals who hide beneath the surface and create a sort of shadow economy of desire.

However, even though most young artists aren't brave enough to approach the gatekeepers, hat in hand, the gatekeepers do not devote hardly enough time or energy to provide infrastructure to keep young artists here.

Even though young artists leaving Dallas is a big reason the Dallas arts scene is underground, the other big reason is that no one knows where to go. Young artists who came of age during the first decade of the millennium found a Deep Ellum that was in shambles and intellectually bankrupt, didn't find a cultural scene in Uptown, was confused as everyone else by Victory Park, were slow to find the Design District, and although noble, Southside wasn't enough.

In the last year you had the success of the Bishop Arts District, Centraltrak and Amsterdam (yes, always, but if there could be one place that was an anchor - Monday night at Amsterdam is the closest thing you have), and a re-emergent Deep Ellum. You also had an economic recession kill arts programs, shut down non-profits and galleries with equal abandon - while two new multi-million dollar buildings open up - shining, new, glorious, and completely out of touch with the young artists who live (and don't live) in the underground.

Given this background, perhaps it isn't surprising why so many young artists live in Dallas for a while and then despair. It takes energy and certain type of personality to sketch out the underground. To find the little of pockets who, from time to time, valiantly come together for nights of artistic defiance - who validate, in secret, that Dallas is a viable city for the arts and for young artists.

And maybe the only reason I have so much faith in the future of the arts in Dallas is because I go to so many of these underground events - things advertised only by a facebook event invite, an email, or a text message - if at all.

I see so many talented artists creating all kinds of great art, 4 to 5 days a week, week in and week out, and rarely at an "established" venue or art space. I make friends with these artists, get to know them, and time after time, I watch them decide to leave, attend their going away parties, and then force myself to head back to the shadows, praying that I will find someone who can decide, like I have, to make Dallas their home.

Orginally posted at A Decade Of Excellence

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